TV Recap - The Vietnam War: Episode 2, Part 1
When it came down to deciding what to cover on this, the last week of Shawt
By Mark Light
September 27, 2017
The Green Berets were dispatched to the Central Highlands to train mountain tribes to fight the Viet Cong and raid supply lines in Cambodia and Laos. He also doubled funding for the South Vietnamese army, giving them helicopters and armored personnel carriers. He authorized the use of napalm and also spraying defoliants to deny jungle cover to the Viet Cong and kill the crops that fed them. One defoliant was named for the color of the stripes on the 55-gallon drums it was shipped in, Agent Orange.
American military advisers were vastly increased. Kennedy had inherited 685 advisers in South Vietnam from Eisenhower. Within two years, that number would be 11,300. He allowed them not only to teach the South Vietnamese army, but to accompany them into battle. This was a violation of the 1954 agreement that divided Vietnam into North and South. And Kennedy's administration tried to hide this from the American public, as he feared they wouldn't support it. A clip of him giving a technically truthful but misleading answer to a reporter is played at this point in the film.
Neil Sheehan was a 25-year-old reporter for United Press International. Vietnam was his first overseas assignment. He describes how he found the experience thrilling in the beginning, as he would ride along with South Vietnamese troops on helicopter raids to fight the Vietcong. Americans piloted the helicopters. These helicopter forces would team up with troops in the new M-113 armored personnel carrier. The APC was perfectly suited for war along the rice paddies. In the early days, James Scanlon, a former adviser, recounts that they (the South Vietnamese and their American advisers) won fight after fight. They did not meet much resistance and it seemed it would be over soon.
The government of Ngo Dinh Diem started a new program to gain control of the countryside called the strategic hamlet program. It amounted to consolidating the villagers into fortified hamlets where they could keep the Viet Cong out. In 1962 things looked so promising that Secretary of Defense McNamara had the Pentagon draw up a plan for withdrawal of all American military advisers by 1965.
But also in 1962, Ho Chi Minh travelled to China to seek more help as the American buildup in the south had alarmed him. He told the Chinese that Americans attacking the North would only be a matter of time. The Chinese agreed to arm tens of thousands of North Vietnamese. Le Duan and the Politburo of North Vietnam ordered that every able bodied North Vietnamese male be required to serve in the armed forces.
Back in America, thousands of young Americans had joined the Peace Corps and other aid programs to help project American goodwill across the globe. Pete Hunting, a 22-year-old from Oklahoma City, was one of them. He worked for the International Voluntary Services, a non-profit committed to improving agriculture, public health, and education. He was one of hundreds of aid workers in South Vietnam. Two years after he arrived, he was driving in the Mekong Delta and ran into a Viet Cong ambush. He was shot five times in the head. Pete Hunting was the first American civilian volunteer to be killed in Vietnam.